First Look At: Chicago Bears

The Bears' offense has come a long way since Green Bay and Chicago met in Week 3 at Soldier Field. Behind Jay Cutler, the Bears have scored more than 30 points in three of their last five games.

The Chicago Bears were able to defeat their oldest rival in Week 3 when they edged the Green Bay Packers 20-17 at Soldier Field back when the Mike Martz offense was in its infancy.

When they face off in the rematch at Lambeau Field, the Bears will have a much more advanced attack, one that has scored a combined 78 points in back-to-back games.

That offense has been improving week by week, but it came in to Week 16 ranked 30th in yards, 31st in interceptions allowed, 32nd in sacks allowed, 26th in passing yards and 25th in rushing yards.

But, starting in the second quarter on Sunday, it scored touchdowns on four straight possessions, not counting a one-play kneel-down at the end of the half. The offensive explosion came against the Jets, the NFL's No. 5 defense, and it was ignited by the Bears' special teams.

It all added up to 38-34 victory in an unexpected offensive shootout that moved the Bears (11-4) a step closer to the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and a first-round bye.

The Bears' offense hasn't gotten a lot of respect for most of the year, and for a while didn't deserve it.

"You could say that early on," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "I think we've been taking steps. During the course of the season, you're going to go through spells where the defense will dominate, and the offense, maybe not. Hopefully we'll keep this going."

The Bears have scored more than 30 points in three of their last five games. After a fitful start, the offense has been major contributor to the team's recent hot streak that includes seven wins in eight games since the bye.

And they've done it with an amazingly balanced offense, especially considering that "Mad" Mike Martz is calling the plays. Against the Jets, the Bears had 27 run plays and 27 pass plays. As they commit more to the run game, it seems the Bears' air attack becomes more efficient. Quarterback Jay Cutler has posted passer ratings of over 100.0 in four of the last five games.

Big-play safety

Chris Harris' reputation as a hard-hitting, physical safety has never been questioned.

Not in his first tour of duty with the Bears (2005-06), the next three years with the Panthers or in his return this season to the Bears. But Harris never has been known as a ball hawk, the kind of guy who was a threat to pick off a lot of passes. Harris has always been able to blow up a receiver or runner with a big hit, but now he's become the kind of player who can also make plays on the ball.

Harris' interception in the final minute Sunday against the Jets, which clinched the Bears' 38-34 victory, was his fifth of the season, tops on the team and a personal best. He also had game highs of 11 tackles and 10 solos and recovered a fumble. Led by Harris, the Bears have 20 interceptions, seven more than they did all of last season.

Harris has had plenty of highlight-film hits since the Bears drafted him in the sixth round in 2005 out of Louisiana-Monroe. But in five previous seasons, he had 10 interceptions and never more than three in a season.

Former Pro Bowl cornerback Gill Byrd, the Bears' assistant defensive backs/safeties coach, has helped convince Harris that a takeaway can be more valuable than a knockout hit.

"We would always have these debates, especially when I was here my first couple years," Harris said. "Back then he would say, 'So, which would you rather take, a hard hit or an (interception)?'"

Back then, that was a no-brainer for Harris.

"I (would say), 'A hard hit, of course,'" he said. "(But) now, I'm kind of feeling myself change. He's kind of gotten me out of that frame of thinking. It's all about the ball. That's kind of our motto in the secondary room. Ball first, and then the hit. If you see you can't get the pick, then you lay a hit on the receiver.

"That's going for our whole secondary. (Defensive coordinator) Rod Marinelli constantly preaches when the ball's in the air, once it's out of the quarterback's hand, it's a free ball, so go get it."

But don't let the ball or the receiver get behind you. That's the other side of the equation. And especially in the Bears' Cover-2 scheme, keeping everything in front of the safeties is key.

"The life of a safety's tough," Harris said. "I don't think people realize how tough it is. If you play on the defensive line, a mistake you make gets covered up by a linebacker. If you play linebacker, mistakes you make get covered up by the secondary. If you're a safety or a corner, the mistakes you make get covered up by the end zone."


— A loss by the Eagles to the Vikings on Tuesday, though unlikely, would gift-wrap the No. 2 seed for the Bears, regardless of the outcome of Sunday's game. That could change how much Bears starters play in Green Bay.

"That's a long ways off," coach Lovie Smith said. "Right now we plan on playing our guys the entire game."

— Knowing that they will have at least one home playoff game made coach Lovie Smith stress to his team the importance of improving their lackluster 4-3 record at Soldier Field heading into Sunday's game vs. the Jets.

"Lovie made that clear in the meeting before the game," Harris said. "(He said), 'Guys, you've done everything I've asked for you to do. You're 6-1 on the road, you're winning, but we're only 4-3 at home.' He made that point that we need to learn how to win at home because we're definitely going to be hosting a game here."

— WR Johnny Knox, who is averaging a team-best 18.8 yards on a team-high 51 catches, needs 40 yards for a 1,000-yard season.

— QB Jay Cutler has boosted his season passer rating to 90.5, which would be a single-season best for him. He has 11 touchdowns and four interceptions in his last five games.

Lineup watch: Sunday's game was the eighth straight with the same players at the same five O-line positions. The Bears have won seven of those games. "I think they're getting a little confidence, each week getting better and better," RB Matt Forte said of the line.

By the numbers: Matt Forte continues to get stronger as the season goes along. In the last six games, he has rushed for 508 yards on just 97 carries, a 5.2-yard average. Forte rushed for 113 yards against the Jets, averaging 5.9 yards on 19 carries, including a 22-yard TD run. Forte also caught four passes for 56 yards.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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